By Anuhita Basavaraju, Class of ’18
May 30th, 2017

I can’t believe my project is starting to take off! It’s surreal seeing the logistics I’ve been working out since the end of December in action. My research project is taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark—I know that it’s an unexpected human rights research location. However, when I studied abroad in Denmark during the Fall 2016 semester, I noticed very interesting group dynamics that I wanted to study further.

Scandinavia is a largely homogenous region and is typically thought of as having a bit of a “tribe” mentality. When you think about Denmark’s history, it is easy to understand why. After warring with Germany in 1864, Denmark lost all of the German speaking portions of its monarchy. This exclusively left Danish speaking people in the monarchy and ultimately an extremely homogenous group of people both religiously and culturally. In fact, these areas had been united as part of the monarchy since before the year 1000.  It is thought that this tight knit almost family-like community is what laid the foundation for the Democratic social welfare state we have seen in Denmark since its beginning stages of development in the 1870s. Cultural similarity and trust are high predictors of how comfortable populations are with paying high taxes in socialistic systems.

Now that we understand the context, it is a bit easier to unpack the current schools of thought regarding the increasing diversity in Denmark since the mid 20th century. Before this point, immigration from other Western countries had occurred to an extent; however, from 1948 onwards, Denmark began to see a stark increase in non-Western immigrants (primarily from predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern countries). There continues to be increased immigration with the Syrian refugee crisis to this day. Integration for non-western immigrants has been proven to be difficult., even for third generation individuals. In fact, there are certain areas of Copenhagen (like Nørrebro) that are almost entirely populated by people of Middle Eastern descent.

My hypothesis is that an underlying reason for the years of divide between “ethnic Danes” and Muslim Danes stems from unconscious biases that taint behavior without the actor’s conscious awareness of it. When our unconscious biases exist, it is nearly impossible to expect genuine integration between two groups of people. Furthermore, implicit biases that are largely perpetuated by the media will affect systemic issues like policy and law enforcement without us realizing it.

However, because we know that cognition has plastic and malleable properties, that does not mean that unconscious bias is necessarily permanent and untouchable. I propose that unconscious bias is best able to be held when a lack of empathy exists because of minimal experiences with one another. Therefore, my research will examine how effective storytelling between ethnic and Muslim Danes is at decreasing cognitive markers of bias. I am really excited to see what the results show; I think that they can have wide implications.